Many pet turtle owners are surprised to learn that even if there are no male turtles around, female turtles still lay eggs each year! These eggs will never hatch, but it’s important to gain knowledge about the egg-laying process so you can take the right steps to keep your turtle happy and healthy.
So why is my turtle eating her eggs? The answer is that the shell provides calcium, while the egg provides protein. It may be a shock to see your turtle eating her eggs, but the truth is that it’s a good source of nutrition!
Below, learn more about why female turtles eat their eggs and how the egg-laying process works. Make sure to take note of the signs that your turtle is carrying eggs, and how to help her lay them safely. You can also check out our tips for breeding your turtles.
Why Female Turtles Eat Their Eggs
If there are no male turtles in your female turtle’s environment, then the eggs that she lays will be infertile. In other words, they will never hatch. Eating these eggs is a great source of calcium and protein for your pet, and it’s a common occurrence. If you notice your pet turtle eating her eggs, it might catch you off-guard, but it’s really nothing to worry about.
In the wild, female turtles simply lay their eggs and leave. They don’t provide any care to their nests or hatchlings. Because of this, female turtles don’t have any instincts that tell them not to eat their own eggs. Therefore, pet turtles often identify their eggs as a food source.
Female Turtles and the Egg Laying Process
Healthy female turtles will produce eggs even if there are no male turtles around. These eggs are infertile and won’t hatch. A turtle carrying eggs is referred to as “gravid,” not pregnant.
Many amphibians are able to reabsorb unfertilized eggs, but turtles and most other reptiles cannot do this. They must lay their eggs or they may become “egg bound.” This is also called “egg retention” or “dystocia.” Being egg bound is very serious and can even be fatal.
Reasons for egg retention in pet turtles include:
- Anatomical problems. These can include issues with the internal or external reproductive organs and can be diagnosed by your veterinarian.
- Improper diet. The most likely culprit is a lack of calcium.
- Inadequate environment. If your pet turtle’s aquarium is too small, has poor water quality, or doesn’t have the right lighting or temperature, this can cause dystocia.
- No suitable place to lay eggs. This is the most common cause of egg retention in pet turtles because they are very particular about where they lay their eggs. If they can’t find a suitable place, they won’t lay their eggs at all.
How to Know If Your Turtle Needs to Lay Eggs
There are quite a few signs that will let you know if your turtle is gravid (carrying eggs). Look out for these behaviors:
- Your female turtle tries to get out of her aquarium. She might try to swim through the glass, climb out the top, or dig through the bottom of the tank. However, this behavior can also be an indicator that the water quality in the aquarium isn’t sufficient, so before assuming your turtle is gravid, check the water chemistry of your turtle’s tank.
- Your pet turtle tries to dig a hole in the bottom of the tank or basking area with her hind feet.
- Your turtle changes her eating habits. Typically gravid turtles eat less or stop eating completely, but some eat more than they usually do.
What Should I Do If My Turtle Is Gravid?
Different species of turtles have their own egg-laying habits. Generally, though, you’ll want to create an oviposition (egg-laying site) indoors so that your turtle can comfortably lay eggs. You can do this by buying a turtle nesting box or using a large plastic storage tub.
The tub should hold enough soil that its depth is deeper than your turtle is long. You also want to have plenty of extra space for movement in the tub so that your turtle isn’t too stressed to lay eggs. Most veterinarians recommend using a tub that is at least five times as large as your turtle.
When filling the tub with soil, ensure that it doesn’t contain any fertilizers or pesticides because they may be toxic to your pet. Typically if soil is labeled “organic,” it won’t have any dangerous ingredients in it.
Next, add aquarium sand or play sand in a natural color (no artificial dyes) and mix it together with the soil. Spritz the top of the soil with warm tap water and place your turtle in the tub. You’ll want to simulate the conditions that the turtle would encounter in nature, so make sure to research your turtle’s species.
This will tell you whether to cover the top of the tub or leave it open with a basking light over it.
Leave your turtle alone in the tub in a warm room where no other animals or people will disturb her. After a few hours, move her back to her aquarium and check the soil to see if she laid any eggs. Usually they will be buried under the soil.
Throw away any eggs you find if they are unfertilized. Keep an eye on your turtle for the next several days because she may have more eggs to lay. If she shows signs of being gravid, simply repeat the process with the nesting box or storage tub.
What If I Want to Breed My Turtles?
This process takes a lot of patience and various supplies, so before you decide you want to breed your turtles, take note of all the necessary steps. As long as you’re familiar with the process, it’s a relatively simple one. Breeding turtles is good for wildlife, and you can earn some money doing it as well!
What You’ll Need For Breeding
First off, you’ll need a good incubator if you want to breed your pet turtles. The size of incubator you choose should be based on the number of eggs you want to incubate. If a nesting substrate such as coco coir or peat moss doesn’t come with the incubator, you’ll need to buy that as well.
Additionally, you will need to purchase extra containers where you can nest the eggs. These containers can also be used to hold the turtles as they break out of their shells.
Identify the Sex and Age of Your Turtles
If your turtles aren’t mature yet, they won’t be able to breed. You’ll also need to figure out the sex of your turtles. The easiest way to do this is to take them to the vet. Most freshwater turtles reach sexual maturity by age three for males or age five for females. However, box turtles all become sexually mature at age five.
Find the Right Ratio of Male and Female Turtles
When breeding your pet turtles, you should generally have more females than males in the environment. Most experts recommend five female turtles for every two males. If there are too many male turtles in the environment, they may bother the female turtles until their health suffers. Another reason to have more female turtles than males is so that the males don’t fight over their limited mating options.
The Breeding Process
The first step is to imitate the temperature patterns turtles would experience in nature. You can do this by cooling your turtles’ environment. Generally, the temperature should range from about 50 to 60 degrees Fahrenheit, and you should keep the temperature at this level for about two months.
After this cooling period, return the temperature of the aquarium to a normal level (70 to 80 degrees Fahrenheit). At this point, it’s essential to feed your female turtles a diet that is high in calcium and Vitamin D3. This will ensure that your turtles lay healthy eggs.
Place your male and female turtles in a large enclosure to allow them to breed. Once they’ve mated, separate the males and females. After the females lay their eggs, you’ll need to incubate them, keeping the incubator’s temperature between 75 and 85 degrees Fahrenheit.
Keep an eye on the eggs for about eight weeks, making sure the incubator is moist but not moldy. As the turtles hatch, place them in a new enclosure which contains water and a dry patch. Feed the hatchlings specialized baby turtle formula.
If you see your female turtle eating her eggs, don’t worry! They are most likely infertile, and your turtle gets nutritional value from eating them. You will need to know how to take care of your female turtle when she lays eggs each year. Breeding your turtles is definitely an option, but make sure that you know the guidelines for breeding in order to have healthy hatchlings.